It's been a puzzling winter. Some have speculated that the big winners have been the Miami Marlins or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Others will hold up the Rangers as the true offseason giant after landing Yu Darvish.
It's all academic, really. The most active team by far over the past two offseasons has been Mystery Team. Some have speculated that this was simply a device used by agents to drive up the price of their clients. But a closer look at Mystery Team's acquisitions makes it clear: an entire lineup and pitching staff has been built that will be the envy of everyone in baseball next year. Let's take a closer look at how Mystery Team stacks up:
At catcher, Russell Martin brings strong playcalling and a decent bat to Mystery Team's forces. He went Mystery Team back in the winter of 2010, living proof that Casey Stengel's phrase, "Without a catcher, you have a lot of passed balls" still holds power over the best front offices.
Newly-acquired first baseman Albert Pujols represents one of the great Mystery Team pickups, with conventional wisdom assigning him to either the Cardinals or Marlins right up until Mystery Team emerged. As you'll see, however, Pujols was merely the final piece in the Mystery Team championship puzzle.
Mystery Team isn't just about the stars, either, and that kind of focus on detail comes through in double-play combination Orlando Hudson, a Mystery Team member since January 2010, and Jamey Carroll, who will play shortstop for Mystery Team after joining the club this winter. This kind of veteran leadership is bound to help this clubhouse find its identity.
At third base, Adrian Beltre has been a reliable contributor to Mystery Team since last winter. Speculation had him in talks with Mystery Team prior to this, but he'd ultimately chosen reality-based clubs too quickly for Mystery Team to swoop in until last year.
In the outfield, the defense is a little shaky. Johnny Damon is the Mystery Team's left fielder (acquired on waivers in August 2010), and Vladimir Guerrero plays right. The question: who is able to cover all that ground between them? Why, none other than the Mysterious Yoenis Cespedes, team unknown. Or is it?
Obviously, the addition of Darvish gives Mystery Team a devastating one-two punch in the starting rotation. Few players make more sense for Mystery Team than Darvish, whose ultimate destination remained a secret for days after teams submitted sealed bids. The entire process would have made Richard Nixon proud.
Darvish will follow Cliff Lee, last winter's biggest Mystery Team pickup, in any postseason series. Lee spurned the Yankees for Mystery Team, and you'd have to figure it was because Mystery Team's GM, whoever he is, told Lee about all his teammates to come.
The rotation has depth as well as star power, with C.J. Wilson slotting in as a strong third starter, Carl Pavano a capable fourth starter, and the fifth starter a competition between Justin Duchscherer and Brandon Webb. Mystery Team is hoping one of them will stay healthy, but isn't counting on both of them. It's called Mystery Team, not Fantasy Team.
The bullpen is anchored by Mystery Team's most engaging personality, Heath Bell. But Bell isn't alone. Mystery Team wanted Chad Qualls so badly, Jon Heyman reported they wanted him two times over. And lefty Joe Beimel is an old reliable Mystery Team standby, filling capably the role of MOOGY (Mysterious One Out Guy).
It's only a matter of time until baseball fans everywhere begin to object to the incredible amount of money Mystery Team is spending to land the finest players at every position (though the exact number is unidentified). What seemed like fun at first has turned into a monster that could threaten competitive balance in the game.
So the next time you see someone wearing the Mystery Team colors, don't just smile and indulge this lark. Your favorite player could be heading their way next. You never know.